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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

TOPIC: An Author's Life...with Sue McKay

Being a published author is an ... involved ... process, and I take my hat off to those who've been in the business more than a few years now.

As a pre-pubbed author I was always curious about what happened once you received THE CALL and stepped into the world of publishing.

What did it involve? How did they handled the day to day pressures? Did they developed routines, set goals etc.? What did they like/dislike about the process?

So I asked my special guests these questions and many of them have offered some intriguing insights into their lives. Maybe they'll even give you a heads up on what to expect if you're thinking of entering the world of "getting published".

Please welcome my next guest... 

SUE MacKAY lives with her husband and a retired hunting dog named Boss in the beautiful Marlborough Sounds at the top of New Zealand’s South Island where she can indulge her passions for the outdoors, the sea and cycling.

As a medical technician she’s worked in haematology and biochemistry laboratories in Auckland and Nelson. Combining this medical background with a love of the romance genre, it is no surprise that she writes medical romance stories. An avid reader all her life she wrote her first story at age eight, about a prince of course. In 2000 she submitted her first book to HM&B. Ten years later she finally sold them her sixth submission and has gone on to sell five more so far.

Author Facts
Marlborough Sounds, NZ
Pseudonym or Given Name on the cover? Why a pseudonym? Sue MacKay. I don’t use a pseudonym.
Location: I live in the Mahau Sound, Marlborough Sounds.
Published Genre: Mills & Boon Medical genre. 
Website: www.suemackay.co.nz 
First published in: 2010
Number of books published: 4

The Nitty Gritty
List up to 5 significant events in your journey to publication:
  1. My very first rejection would have to be the most significant thing that’s happened in my writing career to date. That rejection was a huge shock. Being told my book wasn’t good enough made me very determined to do whatever it took to write a selling story.
  2. I discovered Romance Writers of Australia and through them Romance Writers of New Zealand. Wow. What an eye opener those first newsletters were. Until then I didn’t know anyone else who wrote books and suddenly I had access to people and information. Unbelievable.
  3. My first RWNZ conference blew me away. Everyone I met was so friendly and willing to share information. The speakers and workshops were fantastic. I didn’t sleep much for fear of missing out on something. Every conference I’ve attended since in New Zealand and Australia has still held that magic and excitement of being with like-minded people dedicated to their careers.
  4. Getting a revisions letter for the second book I submitted. At the time I thought if you got one of these you’d made it as there’d just been a succession of writers who’d sold fairly quickly after revisions. My excitement was huge. I didn’t sell, instead I got a second revisions letter – did they really do that? Yes, and they still rejected me.
  5. My husband rolling his eyes and asking if I was going to join him watching boring TV whenever I told him I was giving up writing after yet another rejection from the publishers.
What resources/techniques/events did you find useful to develop your writing skills/craft?
How-to books, courses and conferences were helpful as I learned more and more about my craft.

But I think my biggest asset (at times) is my determination to succeed and my pig-headedness whenever things got tough as they seemed to do with monotonous regularity.

Looking back over your writing career, how have you grown as an author?
Apart from my expanding backside from sitting too much, I guess my writing has improved heaps with every book I’ve written. After that first rejection I found the more I read about writing the less I seemed to know, but finally it all came together. Not that I’ve stopped learning. No way.

How important is it to set career goals?
I set daily, weekly, yearly and five yearly goals. Without them I doubt I’d be published. Goals keep me focused and on track. If I’ve got a year to write a book then I’ll take a year, but if I’ve given myself a six month goal then I’ll do it in that time.

Can you share the special moment when you received THE CALL/THE EMAIL?
February 2010. After three lots of revisions on my current story I was beginning to despair of ever selling when my husband said early one morning that there was an email from my editor. Did I really want to get out of bed to find it was another rejection? Of course I did. Hope never completely disappears. And the hope scale shot through the roof when I read that the editor would be phoning at ten pm that night. What a long day.

I desperately wanted to tell my writing friends but a part of me kept whispering, What if the editor feels bad after all these revisions so is phoning to tell me ‘Thanks, but no, thanks.’  As if. I was so relieved to hear her  say that HM&B wanted to buy my book it took a moment to realise she’d actually said they wanted to offer me a two book contract.

My husband had had no doubts about what the call was about and brought out the expensive bottle of bubbly he’d apparently bought eons ago. It had to have been a long time ago because when he cracked it open it had gone off. Never fear, we had a back up.

What a moment, what a night. Well worth the wait. It was everything I'd dreamed of and yet better – because it was for real.

Can you describe your writing process/timeframe from when you start a new book to handing it in at deadline?
My story ideas usually begin with a very clear opening scene. Then I work on characters to suit the situation and grow the story from there. I spend a lot of time on my hero and heroine’s conflicts, backgrounds, needs and careers. Nowadays I do a very basic plot outline which does my head in as by nature I’m a pantser, but I got tired of writing myself into a corner about the middle of the story so try to have some idea of where I’m going.

My writing day starts with a ten kilometre walk which is great for nutting out plot problems and thinking through the scene I intend writing that day. I do four hours writing in the morning, aiming for 2000 words minimum. Afternoons are taken up with all the other things connected to a writer’s life – proofs, ironing, blogs, dinner, revisions on the previous book as per my editor’s comments. Once the book is written I then spend almost as long on revising – again and again and again.

I’ve made my deadlines on my latest contract tighter than previously in an attempt to stop wasting time. I’m a great procrastinator. Since when did vacuum cleaning seem so attractive?

One of the things I found challenging about being a published author is the constant juggling of tasks ie. writing a book, editing another, planning promotion, writing the prosposal for another (and usually this all happens while holding down another job or dealing with family/life etc.). 

What do you enjoy the most in the publishing process?
I love the whole publishing process, though opening the carton and taking out that first copy of my book is always the most thrilling.

What do you least in the publishing process?
The only area of this business I struggle with is the internet side of things. Blogging still gives me nightmares. But thanks to some very patient women at the Love Cats DownUnder blog I’m getting there.

What's the most memorable fan-mail you've received?
Most memorable fan-mail is one I’ve had often. Apparently I made the readers cry. I love that I’ve touched people’s emotions.

Is there anything you think pre-publishers writers need to know about the business/industry before they're published?
Pre-published authors need to know that selling your first book makes all the hard yards, the rejections, the “I’m going to give up days”, the many lonely hours spent in front of computers well worth it.

The other side of receiving the call is another learning curve but, hey, it’s a lot of fun and more hard work. But the reward is that you get to see your book in print. What can be better than that?

A Bit of Fun
Favourite colour: red.
Hunkiest hero ever: Sean Connery's Bond. The voice gets me every time. 
Most daring thing you've ever done in your life: first solo airplane flight. 
Greatest love: my man.
Timeout/relaxation for me includes: reading, being with close friends, travel.
Special quote/saying you like: What would you do if you knew you could not fail? (Don't know who wrote this)


  1. Hi Sue and Kylie

    Very inspiring blog. I'm a Connery fan too especially of his later films. I love your books Sue. Your success is well deserved. Giovanna

  2. Hi Kylie
    Thank you for having me here. I'm sure we're going to have a great day. I do enjoy meeeting new readers.
    And huge congratulations on your first book coming out. Isn't it awesome?

    1. Thanks for the congrats on VB debut - it IS awesome, not something I'm ever going to forget! :-)

  3. Hey Giovanna, great to see you here. Glad someone else loves Connery, though we might be showing our age a wee bit.

  4. Hi Sue! WOW! First solo airplane flight! You're an amazing woman! xxx

  5. Hi Sue!
    What excellent information for aspiring authors. Those first rejections and revision letters are a definite part of the journey, and it is a tough journey.

    It's always wonderful to hear call stories, as the example for the huge amount of perseverence required in writing and selling a book.

    I'm so glad you didn't join your husband on the couch watching TV!

  6. Lynne's right.. Great information for new authors, especially writers who are targeting M&B or Harlequin.

    Best of luck!

  7. Hi Louisa, yep, going solo was right up there with leaping out of a plane with a parachute. Think I prefer sitting in the driving seat though.

  8. Lynne, the couch was never that inviting apart from the man I'd have been sharing it with.
    Yes, it can be a tough journey to get published but we learn a lot along that journey that helps us afterwards.

  9. Love that cover, Cynthia. Glad you popped by. We all like to read of other writers and how they achieved their goals, don't we?

  10. Hello Sue and Kylie,

    As a Medical Romance fanatic, I've read Sue's Return of the Maverick only so far- *hangs head in shame*

    But yes, I did cry in that. It was highly emotional story!

    Congratulations on the latest release Sue!

  11. Hey Sue and Kylie.
    Well now I've decided I'm a total sloth. 10 k walks and solo flying? Eeek!

    Have to agree on the Sean Connery front - that voice could turn me on whilst reading the phone book! :-)

    Loved your debut Sue. Cant believe your on your 5th already!! Looking forward to reading more.


  12. Cool, Nas. Glad you succumbed. Not how I do on the tear front in the next one.

  13. Amy, I admit to cheating some days and not going as far. As you can see in the photo of the Sounds that Kylie put up this is a very hilly area and some days those hills seem to grow and grow.

  14. LOL, Sue about growing hills. We have a long, uphill driveway and on the days I'm putting the bins out I swear in gets longer. :)

    Thanks for sharing your experiences and thoughts, all information gratefully received.

  15. Great blog, Sue. Now we know why you're so fit and have a head for heights!
    Always enjoy your books and yes, they make me cry too! xx m

  16. Hey, Sue.
    So pleased that the RWA Isolated Writer's Scheme was available to you. I love your covers!

  17. What a terrific interview. Thanks for sharing your journey, Sue. I'm glad you're pigheaded. Authors need that trait. Imagine if you hadn't set goals, and gave up after that first rejection. Well done!!!

  18. Hi Sandy, those hills have minds of their own, for sure. Hope my getting published experiences help someone.

  19. Hi Margie, I don't know about fit but I do enjoy cooking and eating so have to do something.
    Glad you enjoy the books.

  20. Ahh, Fiona, the Isolated Writers and you in particular were very helpful. I can never thank you enough.

  21. Being pig-headed has its uses, and its downsides, Donnell. But yes, any writer has to be ready to take the knocks, and the good times make it worth while.

  22. Great blog Sue, I'm a huge fan of your writing and your attitude! cheers Katie

  23. Hi Katie, great to see you made it here. Thanks for the thumbs up. Your turn is coming.

  24. Hi Sue, looking forward to another catch-up at conference. Glad you are seeing rewards for the hard yards (?kms?) you have put in. We're all the luckier for your 'determination'... :-) Flying, biking, walking, writing... Wonder-woman!

  25. Hi Sue & everyone,

    Great to see you've all kept Sue busy today - I've been at work (teaching) and have only just arrived home. I'm also going to be AWOL and light on the comments as I'm line editing as well as finishing another book, deadline hell looming.

    Thanks for dropping in and welcoming Sue so warmly, I really appreciate it. Sue, I hope you're enjoying the visit!

  26. Clare, really looking forward to catching up. And thank you for your lovely comments.

  27. Kylie, I'm having a blast. Thank you so much for inviting onto your blog. Hope those edits aren't causing too much grief.

  28. Great interview and hello to another fellow 'Kiwi'
    *waves from Ruakaka, Northland*

    I'm ashamed to say i have never read a medical romance, yikes!

    Glad to hear that your determination saw you through and helped to get you there in the end. Self determination is a`highly under rated thing :)

  29. Hi there Cath. Waves back up to your part of the world. I like that comment about self determination.

  30. Great interview girls,
    though yes I'm feeling a tad lazy now too!! LOL
    Determination is inbred in all writers I think. Congrats Sue on your sales =)

  31. Mel, I think you're right. Along with talking to ourselves, writing notes in the dark in the middle of the night!!! All traits of an author.

  32. Really, really interesting interview. Great q's, Kylie - and great answers, Sue.

    I'm such a sucker for knowing how other authors work, so I love this series. I think we all wonder if there's a better way - if some other author has found a secret to making it all easier.

    I'm both disappointed you haven't :-)- and yet relieved that I haven't wasted all these years doing it all wrong! ;-)

    I do envy you your exercise regime though. Mine has dropped off as the times pressures increased - and both my mind and body miss it. Go you!

    Congrats on all your successes and this lovely interview.

  33. Are you paying more than $5 / pack of cigarettes? I buy high quality cigs from Duty Free Depot and I'm saving over 60%.